A secret internal ‘NYTimes’ memo reveals the paper’s anti-Palestinian bias is even worse than we thought

JAMES NORTH

Kudos to the anonymous New York Times staffers who leaked the paper’s offensive internal guide about the language it won’t permit in its reports on Israel/Palestine, and more kudos to The Intercept for publishing it. The shocking revelation should prompt an even broader examination of the biased language that has long been routine in the Times and across all U.S. media.

Let’s start with The Intercept’s scoop. Arguably the worst example of bias is the Times’s directive that its reports should “avoid” using the phrase “occupied territory” when describing Palestinian land. I’ve closely monitored the paper’s slanted coverage for more than a decade, and I admit to being stunned by this. Let’s set aside Gaza for the moment, even though international legal experts explain that Israel’s air, sea, and land blockade constituted “occupation” even before October 7. 

But what about West Bank Palestine? How can the Times pretend that Israel’s permanent military forces, there since June 1967, do not constitute an “occupation?” Israel’s military and police checkpoints and the fact that Israel’s military law is supreme — what is this if not an “occupation?” 

Just as offensive is the internal Times memo’s instruction that reporters should not use the word Palestine “except in very rare cases.” This is another jaw dropper. Several million people call themselves “Palestinians,” and Palestine is represented at the United Nations. The United States claims that it still favors a two-state solution; how can you describe the second state without saying “Palestine?”

The Times also told its staff not to use the expression “refugee camps” to describe certain areas in Gaza. The paper justifies this linguistic censorship by arguing, “While termed refugee camps, the refugee centers in Gaza are developed and densely populated neighborhoods dating to the 1948 war.” In short, the paper says, before October 7 Gazans were no longer living in tent cities — (as they are again in Rafah and elsewhere in the territory since Israel destroyed entire neighborhoods) — so you can’t say “camps.” But this isn’t the point. Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank do consider themselves refugees; many families still have the keys to the homes they or their ancestors were forced from in 1948. An honest newspaper would report this once in a while instead of shutting down discussion by dictating vocabulary. 

This bombshell from The Intercept comes after months of growing criticism of the New York Times over its coverage of Gaza and Palestine more broadly. One New York Times reporter has been removed from the paper after her anti-Palestinian bias came to light after she played a role in one of the paper’s most glaring reporting scandals since October 7. The Times coverage from Gaza has been astonishingly dishonest, going so far as to blame Palestinian aid seekers for their own deaths when attacked by Israeli forces. This malpractice hasn’t been isolated to Gaza, as the paper has failed in its reporting of the West Bank, too.

The Intercept revelations are extraordinarily valuable. But some U.S. mainstream bias is so comprehensive and has gone on for so long that it is still passing unnoticed. Let’s take the fact that the 670,000 Jewish Israelis who have moved permanently into occupied West Bank Palestine since 1967 are universally called “settlers,” instead of “colonists,” and the places where they now live are called “settlements.” The Times memo didn’t even have to order this usage; it just happens automatically.

Whoever first chose the word “settlers” back in the 1970s deserves a gold medal for dishonest euphemism. “Settlers” gives the impression of hardy pioneers who are entering a land that is nearly empty, a more up-to-date version of the original Zionist expression: “a people without land for a land without people.” The truth is, of course, different; West Bank Palestine is characterized by Israeli military checkpoints, segregated roads for Jews only — and, in recent months, murderous pogroms carried out by settlers/colonists with the complicity of the Israeli army. You regularly read accounts by people who say that a single visit to the occupied West Bank was so shocking that they had to revise their previous views.

George Orwell did not only explain that dishonest and euphemistic language can hide important truths. He went further — arguing convincingly that what he called “Newspeak” could actually prevent you from even thinking accurately. Just imagine how American opinions about Israel/Palestine would start changing if the Israeli “colonists” were named accurately, even just part of the time.

(Source: Mondoweiss)